Haggerty: Bruins vs. Capitals preview

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Haggerty: Bruins vs. Capitals preview

The Bruins have started to find their consistency and mojo in their last three games, and they dont want to throw it away now.

Once again the Bruins will be facing a Washington Capitals bunch that should hungrier than them given the Southeast Division dog fight theyre embroiled in while holding tightly onto the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference. The Caps managed only five out of a possible 10 points in their recent five-game homestand and now the Bruins represent the first stop on a long and winding road that will likely determine their playoff fate once and for all.

The Bruins meanwhile have won two games in a row for the first time in nearly two months, are playing the kind of hockey thats befitting a Stanley Cup champ and looked primed to go on an extended winning stretch before the playoffs begin. As it is so often for the Bruins its about balanced scoring with production from the fourth line, physicality and the goaltending component finally showing up against the Sabres.

The Bruins werent worried about winning streaks or consecutive victories as much as theyre now laser pointer focused on finding consistency in their game and feeling good about themselves with the playoffs around the corner. Jordan Caron has given the Bruins six points in his last three games and has whipped up the kind of production thats crucial at the right wing spot with injuries to Rich Peverley and Nathan Horton.

I dont think we can focus on going for three wins in a row or going for four wins in a row, said Kelly. I think we just need to realize that we need to be more consistent and we need to come out and play every game hard. If we do that the results will take care of themselves.

With 11 games during the first 19 days of March and a bevy of four-game weeks for the Bruins, Claude Julien gave the Bs an optional skate on Friday that big minute players like Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, Milan Lucic and Dennis Seidenberg decided to spend off the ice. That sounds like a deal the Bruins might see more of going forward provided their coach is seeing the results on the ice.

A homeroad weekend against the Capitals and Penguins isnt any easy task for the Bruins, but the hard way is the best way to prepare for the playoffs.

I just want to make sure that I see a good effort from everybody, so whatever each individual needs to do to get there is their option, said Julien. Were looking forward to keeping our momentum going. You want to win hockey games, but what you want most of all is your team to compete hard every nightand want to be one of the best teams.

Weve been pretty good at that lately. I like the direction were headed in. I like the approach of our guys before the games. You can see them getting into the groove of understanding just how important every game is. Ottawa just wont go away. We need to keep playing good hockey.

PLAYER NEEDING HIS TIRED PUMPED: Brian Rolston has one assist in six games with the Bruins, and has only managed nine shots on goal in those six games. Part of the reason to bring Rolston in was his willingness and skill shooting the puck, but that hasnt been seen enough thus far. Rolston was dropped down to the third line midway through Thursday nights win over the Buffalo Sabres and has experienced some turbulence adjusting to 15 minutes per night with the Bruins after getting spot duty for the Islanders prior to the trade. If anything could use a solid, productive game against the Capitals it would be Rolston now skating with Benoit Pouliot and Chris Kelly.

DRESSING ROOM MANTRA HEADED INTO THE GAME: Both the Capitals and Penguins are playing well. Maybe theyre in different spots in the standings, but everyone wants those points going down to the stretch. Its going to be two hard-fought games. Its nice to get back-to-back wins, but we cant sit here saying we need to go for three in a row we need to go for four in a row. We just need to be more consistent. Chris Kelly talking about the challenge of matinees against Washington (at home) and Pittsburgh (on the road) this weekend.

KEY MATCHUP: Its always Zdeno Chara against Alex Ovechkin in a battle of Slovakian immovable object against Russian unstoppable force. Chara held the 26-year-old Ovechkin to zero points and a minus-2 in their only meeting of the season thus far as the Russian sniper was on suspension during Bostons first game in Washington DC. It should be a highly motivated Ovechkin given the questions that are being whispered about him while hes on pace for a pedestrian 30-goal, 60-point campaign for a Washington team on the outside of the playoff bubble.

STAT TO WATCH: 14-0-0 The Bruins record this season when Chris Kelly scores a goal. Claude Julien likes to talk about the importance of secondary scoring and that stat reflects it nicely.

INJURIES: Rich Peverley (right knee sprain), Tuukka Rask (groin strainabdomen strain) and Nathan Horton (mild concussion) are long term injuries for the Bruins, and both Andrew Ference (lower body injury) and Daniel Paille (upper body) are day-to-day with the possibility of taking part in Saturday mornings warm-up skate. Brad Marchand suffered a stinger in his shoulder in the third period of Thursday nights game, but Claude Julien said hell be playing. For Washington playmaking center Nicklas Backstrom remains out with a concussion and defenseman Mike Green will be serving the first game of a three-game suspension for a head shot on Tampas Brett Connelly.

GOALTENDING MATCH-UP: Itll be interesting to see whether Claude Julien gives newly signed backup goaltender Marty Turco one of the two starts this weekend against the Capitals and Penguins respectively. If its Tim Thomas it will be his eighth straight appearance, but hes coming off a solid 19-save outing in the win over the Buffalo Sabres. Tomas Vokoun has made both starts against the Bruins this season and is 1-1 with a 3.03 goals against average and a .902 save percentage against them while coming off a needed overtime win against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

NHL Notes: Carlo sticking with his strengths in the D-zone

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NHL Notes: Carlo sticking with his strengths in the D-zone

By all accounts, 20-year-old Brandon Carlo has been outstanding for the Boston Bruins.

The rookie D-man was remarkably strong and consistent skating with Zdeno Chara as a top-pairing shutdown D-man before the Bruins captain went down with injury, and he was still very good after adjusting to life without partner Big Zee over the last six games.

Carlo had a couple of assists and a plus-3 rating while topping 20 minutes of ice time in each of the games without Chara, and rightly saw it as an opportunity to show what he could without the 6-foot-9 safety net on his left side. It’s exactly those kinds of challenges that spark Carlo’s competitiveness and get the fire burning that he so desperately needs in order to play at such a high intensity level every night in the NHL.  

“Zee helps me a lot, but I feel like at the same time I have the strengths to be able to handle myself on my own in this league,” said Carlo, who leads all rookies by a wide margin with his plus-12 rating for the season. “It’s a great opportunity to get out there and build relationships defensively. I just take it as an opportunity to prove myself in this league by myself. It was an opportunity to gain some confidence in different ways. With Zee playing so well and with such great chemistry between us, it gave me a whole bunch of confidence.

“Playing with different guys and matching up against the other team’s best players or matching up with third and fourth lines and maybe taking a few more hits, it shows that I can play anywhere in the lineup. It’s another great opportunity to prove myself.”

Well, Carlo has proven himself and passed that test along with all of the other NHL rookie exams set in front of him more than a quarter of the way through the regular season.

Clearly there are obvious gifts with Carlo plain to anybody watching him for the first time. He has the 6-foot-5, 203-pound frame that simply can’t be taught and that size allows him to win battles against stronger, more experienced opponents looking to do battle with him in Boston’s defensive zone.

He also has a very good point shot he consistently threads through traffic, and that has him on pace for a very respectable seven-goal, 20-point rookie campaign without any power play time mixed into his ice time. The decision-making with the puck and the passing is tape-to-tape more often than it’s not, and Carlo usually does a good job of avoiding the kind of high risk passes that can turn into goals against while battling other team’s top line players.

He keeps it simple and keeps it focused on defense, but Carlo also shows there is more surface to scratch with his offensive game.

Some of Carlo’s talents are a little less apparent to the casual observer, however.

The defensive stick-work, in particular, is something that you notice after watching Carlo shut things down in the D-zone night after night. He uses his long wing span and king-sized stick to poke pucks away from attackers, and has an uncanny ability to sweep the puck away from speedier players that were able to get a step on the big D-man.

“The one thing is that he’s so long and his stick is so long, it gives him time to recover because as a young kid in the league you’re going to make a lot of mistakes,” said Torey Krug, who has had to learn to survive in the NHL without those particular gifts. “He has the ability to come back and recover. The second part of that is being unfazed by it. He can make a mistake on one shift, and the next shift he shrugs it off and says ‘Okay, I’m not gonna get beat like that again.’ He has the ability to overcome that. He has the right head on his shoulders with the willingness to listen, to learn and to just keep getting better.”

The stick-checking in the D-zone is exactly how somebody would teach their hockey-playing kids to utilize the stick in the defensive zone, provided those puck prodigies were 6-foot-5 with excellent strength and hand-eye coordination to boot. Carlo said it’s something he’s nearly always been able to do as a big-bodied defenseman, and that certainly was reinforced by his coaching at the WHL level with the Tri-City Americans.

“There were not a lot of teaching points there. The stick is just something that I’ve always just loved using,” said Carlo. “Whenever I was on 1-on-1’s with my teams the guys would hate going against me because my poke check was so good. It’s just something that I really took pride in, developed and just got better and better with over time. There are certain things guys have told me [over the years] like using the straight back-and-forth instead of the windshield wiper [stick check].

“With my size I kind of had to adapt to the long stick, and I really enjoy using it [as a defensive weapon]. It gives me an extra step and an extra opportunity to get the puck away from guys too, particularly when they get behind me. It’s nice that I can use that long reach to get me out of sticky situations at times.”

Claude Julien made certain to point out that it’s something Carlo brought to the table prior to joining the Bruins organization, and was noticed immediately by the Providence Bruins coaching staff last season in his handful of games with them. It’s something of a rarity for a 19 or 20-year-old player to have that kind of stick technique down to a science to the point where it becomes a defensive weapon for him at the NHL level.

It’s also something that’s made Carlo’s transition to the NHL almost seamless despite just eight games of AHL experience entering this season.

“Most young guys always have two hands on their stick and it’s up around their waist, and you have to do a good job of teaching them to keep one hand on the stick with sticks on pucks,” said Julien. “Those are the kinds of things where it’s hard [sometimes] to break younger players in because for some reason they’re told to keep two hands on their sticks when they’re younger. At this level we need the one hand to have sticks on pucks.

“That’s what came out of last year when he first got to Providence. He had a very good stick and that’s what we were told. He had that before he came here, and that was one of his strengths. You continue to work with him because that has been one of his best weapons. Zdeno is probably one of those guys that’s going to tell you it served him extremely well, so he’s learning from the best when he’s playing with [Chara]. No doubt that’s been a big part of why he’s able to play here right now is because he defends well, and he uses his stick well.”

It’s exactly those kinds of fundamental strengths that have the Bruins believing they’ve got the real deal in a top-4, shutdown D-man in Carlo, and that the 20-year-old Colorado native has played himself into a big part of the big picture future for the Black and Gold. 

ONE TIMERS

*Seeing Brad Marchand lose it on a linesman Saturday afternoon in Buffalo reminds me of his preseason comments on getting on the good side with the refs this season. Marchand had just engaged in a scuffle with Rasmus Ristolainen, and then the Bruins winger engaged in a verbal scuffle with one of the officials during the ensuing face-off. Cameras caught Marchand saying “Do your job! Do your job!” before dropping a couple of clear F-bombs his way before the puck was dropped. Well, so much for racking up the brownie points to change the reputation with the refs, eh Brad?

*In case it isn’t already obvious, expect the Bruins big trade acquisition prior to the deadline to involve a top-6 forward that can put the puck in the net rather than a top-4 defenseman. They could use both, of course, but they are looking to find somebody that can finally fill into Loui Eriksson’s left wing role on David Krejci’s line, and both Ryan Spooner and Tim Schaller haven’t been perfect solutions for the playmaking Krejci. Certainly the Black and Gold will look at 22-year-old Frank Vatrano when he comes back as well, but there’s no telling how long it’s going to take a youngster like that to fully come back from foot surgery. The Bruins may just hedge their bets by going out and getting another winger after putting together a whole collection of centers on the roster this summer.

*Continued prayers and thoughts for Craig Cunningham as it sounds like he’s on the road to recovery in very slow steps out in Arizona. He is a great kid and deserves all the positive thoughts that Bruins Nation can send out to him.

*If you haven’t already, go out and pick up fellow Bruins writer Fluto Shinzawa’s new book entitled “Big 50: Boston Bruins: The Men and Moments that Made the Boston Bruins.” The Boston Globe writer goes deep into the B’s history books for some Old Time Hockey anecdotes and characters, and also gives you a close-up view of the last 10 years as he’s covered the daily doings of the Black and Gold. It’s not that big of a book either, so it looks like the perfect Christmas stocking stuffer for the Bruins fan in your family.

Remember, keep shooting the puck at the net and good things are bound to happen.